It's that time of year again. Everyone dons their wizard hat and predicts the future, based on the impressions of the present. Good teams will be good again. Bad teams will be bad. Splashy teams (NY, LA, Dallas, Brooklyn) get the headlines and the benefit of the doubt. Boring teams get ignored.
When it comes to the Phoenix Suns, though, most of the pundits on the internet have decided to "punt". Or to use an NBA term, to "swallow their whistle".
The knee-jerk perception among media is to bury the post-Nash Suns. Heck, even the NBA discounts the Suns, giving them only 5 nationally-televised games this year. How can a team that waved goodbye to their best player, without replacing him with a clearly better one, be anywhere near as good the next season?
But then part of the exercise of writing a season preview is to analyze the actual Suns roster, which has led to some raised eyebrows. Okay, Steve Nash and Grant Hill are gone. But they do have the impressive, young, media-loved Goran Dragic. Oh yeah, and there's steady Luis Scola. The interesting potential of Markieff Morris. And the enignmatic but uber-talented Michael Beasley. Hmm... Plus, Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat are still there too?
That's the point at which the pundits throw up their hands and equivocate. The Suns should be bad, because they didn't even make the playoffs last season before giving up their best player. But then the Suns could be good, because Dragic and Scola nearly carried a worse Rockets team to the postseason.
Who knows, right?
Some of them, in their moment of indecision, return to their simple comfort level and predict horrible things anyway. Others remain on the fence. Only Clyde Drexler - the TV color analyst for Dragic and Scola last season - is willing to ride the Suns' horse into battle.
Check out some previews throughout the interwebs as of this morning.
This off-season has brought with it the most active re-building phase that the Suns have seen in a decade. In case you've been living under a rock this summer, the former face of the franchise and lone superstar, Steve Nash, is now on the Los Angeles Lakers after the Suns made the decision to go younger with their pursuit and eventual signing of free-agent and former Sun Goran Dragic.
With all of the talk surrounding the changes to the Suns' roster this season and all of the new faces on the team, many seem to have overlooked a very interesting dynamic involving who the Suns will choose to start at the power forward position this year.
When the Suns were awarded Luis Scola (32 years old, 6'9", 245lb) from the amnesty auction this off-season, many fans were shocked being that the Suns already had Markieff Morris along with Channing Frye at the position. But with the recent, shocking medical diagnosis that will cause Frye to miss at least this season, the Suns front office now appears to have made a very wise decision by bringing aboard the scrappy, skilled veteran to help solidify the team.
Luis Scola is known as one of the most skilled big men in the interior. Although he doesn't possess elite size, strength, or athleticism, his craftiness and hustle in and around the paint makes him a very effective starting power forward who can not only run the pick and roll but can also post up and create his own shot.
Of course, the flip-side to this is that the Suns' very promising sophomore power forward, Markieff Morris, also appears primed and ready to step into the starting spot.
While Morris had an up-and-down first season with the Suns averaging 7.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in approximately 20 minutes per game, Morris showed flashes of greatness in his first season...So much so that he was even placed into the starting line-up for a brief five-game stint after playing in only 14 games prior to that.
However, Morris struggled to find his niche last season in an offense that was customized around Nash's strengths, and he initially tried to become a player he probably wasn't the best suited for...a stretch-four. The Suns already had Channing Frye; what they needed was a defensive minded big man who could protect the rim inside, score down low, and gobble up rebounds in and around the paint.
Morris was eventually moved back to the second unit where he claimed to be more comfortable, much to the chagrin of many Suns' fans. However, Morris showed improvement as the season went on, and he finally seemed to realize that his biggest impact could be made inside of the arc.
After having one shortened season under his belt and now a full off-season working out with the training and coaching staff, Markieff appears ready to make his mark.
Morris was the undisputed MVP of the Suns' Summer League and was one of the top performers overall as well. Keef led the Summer Suns averaging 19.8 points (10th highest in the league), and 9.8 rebounds (2nd highest in the league) per game. He displayed an impressive post game, very nice footwork, and an improved jump shot as well.
While this was only Summer League basketball which can't really compare to the NBA, you couldn't help but notice the substantial improvements Markieff had made since we last saw him. Keef now appears both mentally and physically ready to take the reins and never look back.
But then again, Luis Scola is a proven vet who has proven chemistry with the Suns' new starting point guard. Although Dragic is only one and a half years removed from the Suns, this is now almost a completely different team than it was when he last played in Phoenix.
In fact, the only players still on the roster from when Dragic played in Phoenix are Jared Dudley and Marcin Gortat (barely). So maybe having another familiar player in Scola, who played so well with Dragic in Houston, would be a better fit to start the season at power forward?
There's no way to know the right answer yet. There are certainly pros and cons for both Morris and Scola to play in the starting unit, and there won't be a clearer picture on who the right player will be until training camp and preseason starts.
It really could go either way...this will definitely be one competition to keep an eye on.
Unfortunately, we just don't know what "next" means. No one does. More than 100 analysts at ESPN collectively decided that the Suns will finish near the bottom of the Western Conference. Conversely, the man who called games for the Rockets last year (Clyde Drexler) sees a solid playoff team who added Dragic and Scola to a stronger supporting cast than the Rockets offered. Even fans on BSotS range in their predictions of the season from solid playoff team to contender for the #1 pick.
How can analysts and pundits and fans be so unsure about this team? Because the leadership from the last few seasons is gone. Steve Nash and Grant Hill represented the old guard, the quiet leadership that would keep the ship sailing in the right direction. Not once did the Suns falter in their confidence, thanks to those men.
But that's all gone now. The Suns franchise has decided to move into a new era. But what era is that?
Pessimists pan the replacement of the Suns' glory-days leadership with four primary pieces from other teams that couldn't make the playoffs either - Houston (Dragic, Scola) and Minnesota (Beasley, Johnson). How can dumping your leaders and adding middling parts from losing teams be a benefit to the Suns franchise?
Pessimists have already decided that every returning Suns player's stats will decline without the benefit of Steve Nash spoon-feeding them the ball. Pessimists also believe that losing your best defensive player (Grant Hill) hurts your already middling-to-poor defense.
Pessimists believe themselves to be realists.
Optimists look to production (Dragic, Scola) and potential (Dragic, Beasley, Johnson, Morris, Marshall) and imagine most of those players taking that next step to make the Suns a surprise team in the West. Optimists also discount the Nash factor, and imagine a world where Marcin Gortat can score off someone else's passes and Goran Dragic can attack the basket at will. Optimists also believe that Jared Dudley will come into his own as a leader, and that Michael Beasley will become the player he always should have been - a star.
Optimists believe themselves to be realists.
"Real" is somewhere in between, which portends another team fighting to win the last playoff spot in the West.
"Real" is that 29 other NBA teams won NBA basketball games without Steve Nash as their point guard.
"Real" is that, to make the playoffs, the Suns have to completely forget their past and move boldly into a new era with a new personality. The more time they spend trying to reprise their past with a new cast of characters, the longer it will take them to win basketball games on a consistent basis.
For reality to approach the heights of optimistic predictions, new leadership will have to form quickly. At least one player must exceed expectations, if not three or four of them. And none of the top 7 or 8 can regress.
Monday, October 1, from 10-12, is the Phoenix Suns annual Media Day. After that, the Phoenix Suns hop on a plane to San Diego for a short training camp followed by the first preseason game on October 10.
All the players, coaches and front office will be on hand for a whirlwind tour of quickie interviews.
Post what questions you want us to ask in the comments. We'll be sure to use the best ones.
My initial thoughts:
Goran Dragic - Tell me how the pick-and-roll will differ this year, compared to what Suns fans are used to seeing?
Kendall Marshall - You've played pickup games with Telfair and Dragic for a couple weeks now. What separates you from them?
Sebastian Telfair - You have competition for the backup PG spot. Do you feel it's your job, or do you have to win it?
Jared Dudley - Who's the leader on this team? What has to happen for this team to make the playoffs? Who's been most impressive in pickup games so far? What should the personality of the team be this year?
Wesley Johnson - For you to call it a good season, what do you see happening with your game? What skill will get you minutes on the court?
Michael Beasley - For you to call it a good season, what do you see happening with your game? Are you focused more on minutes, points or what?
PJ Tucker - Besides yourself, who has been most impressive in pickup games so far? What do you bring to the Suns that they need?
Markieff Morris - What's the main difference for you, between year 1 and 2? What do you expect to happen, with regard to your contributions this season?
Luis Scola - What do you think of the idea to fine players for "flopping" in a game? How tough is it to make the right call, on a flop vs. a charge or a block?
Jermaine O'Neal - You've mentioned this might be your last season in the NBA. What would have to happen for you to continue beyond this year?
Marcin Gortat - Who is the leader on this team? Talk about the Euro qualifying - how were they playing you? What will you bring this year that's new? What should this team's personality be, this season? How do you see that changing? What has to happen for this team to make the playoffs?
Solomon Jones - Rumor had it the Suns have liked you for years. What's the best attribute you can bring to this team?
Alvin Gentry - What do you see as the personality of the team this year? In terms of Xs and Os, what's the most important thing to work on in training camp? Offense, or defense? What about Frye's game will you miss the most?
There's my rough draft of questions on a Friday morning, with 3 days to go.